Well, my husband and I are church shopping. Yes, that’s right, the most dreadful component of following Jesus. I have always considered myself a master shopper of clothing and shoes. My closet makes that pretty clear. Grocery shopping, on the other hand, has always been one of my least favorite species of shopping. However, church shopping takes the cake for most miserable, most awkward, and most likely to be avoided, although it is the cheapest. Alas, it is, at one time or another, an inevitable part of any Christian journey, as it should be.
Only a lucky few will avoid this troublesome business. Eventually, a church will falter and cause a parishioner to look elsewhere for spiritual guidance. There are some churchgoers, however, who simply desire to feel good at church, indifferent to its actual teachings. This is more troublesome than choosing to leave a church. It is imperative that we, as Christians, require churches to remain unwavering in their commitment to the Bible and their congregation. If either of these fail, it is time to go church shopping. I would imagine the most common reason a person decides to shop around is an opposition of beliefs between the individual and the church. However, the youth group might not be up to par, the pastor might have offended, the congregation might be too big or too small, the Bible might be ignored, the music might be too fast or too slow, the church might ask for too much money–all are reasons people choose to leave a house of worship and embark upon the perilous journey of church shopping.
I have been somewhat forced to vacate my current church and muddle through the local church roster, experiencing a full array of disturbances and pleasantries along the way. In its simplest terms, my husband and I are looking for a church that says Baptist on the welcome sign yet still bears an uncanny resemblance to our old Lutheran church, which had a number of fine qualities. The reason for this nonsense is because I, in my naivety and relief he wasn’t Catholic, married a Baptist. Sigh…
No matter the church, being a visitor in a congregation pretty much guarantees, however varied in degree, the same form of awkwardness. My husband and I enter, greeted by the designated greeter dude, always whom is overly friendly when we are trying to stay under-the-radar. I attempt to keep my eyes low and my judgment lower as my peripherals catch glimpses of the regular attendees. My sinful self generally observes two things automatically, how is everyone dressed and, somewhat less sinful, will my son have kids to play with. We take a seat in the back, trying to blend in but being dreadfully aware that half the room has already noticed us and probably nudged the person next to them commenting, “They’re new.” I see a friendly, always elderly, face approaching us but try not to notice as I’m wrestling with my son’s jacket, let the awkward conversation commence.
“Hello, I’m Greg,” Greg says as he extends his shaking hand.
My husband, bless his heart, always leads these conversations, “Hi, I’m Alex and this is my wife, Tara, and son.”
Greg, intentionally prodding, but trying to remain aloof and keep his eyes from wandering over each of us like vultures circle a nearly dead creature, “Are you guys from around here?” To the untrained eye this question appears to be simple and direct; however, Greg is really asking, “If you aren’t new to town, why are you new to this church? Do you need to be saved? Should I tell you about Jesus? Are you a Heathen?” While the simple question as to the state of our residence is hanging in the air, my mind, and probably body language, is screaming, “We are Christians, born and raised. We are VERY church savvy and we do not need you to tell us about Jesus. We could tell YOU about Jesus!”
My husband, unaware of Greg’s need to be told that we are, in fact, church people says, “Yes, we live on the South side of town.” What he has actually just told Greg is this, “We are Heathens. This is our first time inside a church.”
Now Greg is on the prowl. He doesn’t want to scare us off, but he wants to make sure we come back, so he turns on the charm and says, “We are so glad you are here, and we hope to see you again.” The is always followed by some random facts about the building and the pastor, as if we asked.
Despite the intense amount of God-given grace residing within the three adults involved in this discussion, the conversation always ends painfully ungracefully as Greg goes back to his pew, which he has probably sat in every Sunday, with his lovely wife, for the last 30 years. As he walks away, I desperately strive to send him a definitive look that will explain in vivid and accurate detail, “We go to church. We are just church shopping because my husband wants his family to attend a Baptist church. We have attended a local Lutheran church for the past two years, and I myself have been a member for many years. We are Christian. We love Jesus and we absolutely do not want an email from the pastor on Monday morning and please stop judging us!”
We, recently, attended a church that was a little bit my style and a lot my husband’s style. Even though we were not able to avoid the prototypical conversation described above or the seriously-everyone-is-watching-us feeling, I will say, the church was alright. The people were friendly and the pastor was knowledgeable. We even went back for a second Sunday.
My husband and I did not have the pleasure of sitting together on either of the Sundays that we attended this church due to our son’s complete abhorrence for sitting still. On Sunday #2, my husband took him to the spacious area behind the pews where parents seem to regularly pace with their rowdy children. The pastor was a guest from somewhere in the South, and let’s just say, he spoke with a bit of zeal. I, being a Lutheran, am completely unaccustomed to “fire and brimstone” sermons and can honestly say I have never actually witnessed one. I watched, in awe, as the pastor spoke, or yelled. He made eye contact with me numerous times, lasting significantly longer than I would have liked, and I panicked, not knowing if I should look interested, offended, happy, or contemplative. I was struck by the power of his voice, and his unique balance of humor and conviction. I was also fairly surprised he made it through the entire sermon without having a stroke.
He probably wasn’t five minutes into his heated harangue, when I heard it. It slipped out of the mouth of one of the parishioners and bounced its way up to the front of the church, urged on by the numerous nodding heads and risen hands. Amen. Okay, wait a minute. Amen is for concluding a prayer and that is absolutely its only purpose. I was distracted by my thoughts on this topic when I heard it again, and again. I am a Lutheran, people. Lutherans do not say amen. They do not. They do not. They do not.
This wasn’t the first time I had heard an amen tossed willy nilly into a congregational atmosphere as the pastor inculcates Biblical know-how onto his parishioners. However, it always comes from a visitor, completely unaware they are sitting in a Lutheran church, or a regular Lutheran attendee who has gone rogue. I didn’t have time to dwell on this rudely verbal audience because I was too busy wondering if the man ahead of me had a question. Why, on earth, is his hand up? Is active participation encouraged? Are we allowed to ask questions? Am I back in high school? The man wasn’t called upon and his hand was joined by many more, perhaps they only had rhetorical questions. With these distractions, it’s a miracle I heard any part of the actual sermon. I thought my perfect Lutheran box had been shaken enough for one day, but as the pastor made his final points and was approaching a conclusion, I heard an amen I will never forget. It came from the back of the room, and the voice had many similarities to that of my husband’s.
Consider my Lutheran box shattered, tattered, torn, and ragged. Two years into my marriage and the realization has finally struck me like a rattlesnake in the Rockies, I married a hand-raisin’, amen sayin’, Bible-thumpin’ Baptist. Pray for me.
Dear readers, I consider it absolutely our Christian duty to welcome visitors into a church. I thoroughly enjoy visiting with congregation members and getting to know new people. I love all the Gregs of this world and Jesus blesses them for their hospitality. This post is meant to be only satirical and serve as entertainment for my readers.